Monday, January 31, 2011

Shepherdess Swedish Meatballs

One of the many things I love about meatballs, is that they can be frozen. Back in December I made Swedish Meatballs, after looking at several recipes and freezing half of the uncooked meatballs for another time. Yesterday, when I decided to make Swedish meatballs again, the little bag of them was there in the freezer, and I was more than halfway done already. In December I'd made them in a Dutch oven on top of the stove like this (click here), and let them simmer for a good half hour. Yesterday, I wanted to put the meatballs on to cook and go do OTHER STUFF, so I made them in the crock-pot. This worked wonderfully. I was able to spend the afternoon weeding and knitting while they were cooking unattended, and when it was time for dinner all I needed to do was cook some egg noodles.

Shepherdess Crock-pot Swedish Meatballs

Brown meatballs (thawed or unthawed frozen), either on an oiled sheet in the oven, or in bit of oil or butter in a skillet. I must admit that I browned these in a bit of bacon fat left in the caste iron skillet from breakfast, which (besides confessing to using bacon fat here) means it was past noon and the breakfast dishes were still lying about, but my motto for weeding is, weed first and do dishes after, gloves or no gloves, which is the only way I seem to be able to get my hands reasonably clean.

Put the browned (and drained) meatballs into the crock. Drain all but 1 T. fat from skillet and add 2 T. flour to make a roux. Stir in 3 c. lamb stock (or beef stock) to make a thin gravy.

3/4 t. salt
1 t. dill weed
dash allspice
1 T. ketchup or tomato paste
glug or two Worcestershire Sauce

Pour gravy over meatballs in crock-pot. Cook low 3-4 hours. To serve, add 1/2 c. sour cream and stir in. Meanwhile, cook 8 oz egg noodles until done, drain and stir into meatballs. Serve with a vegetable or salad. A bit of currant jelly added would be traditional, but I had a glass of currant wine after dinner instead.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Almost Spring

The beginning of spring can be difficult to spot. I mark February 1st as the first day of spring, the beginning that is almost imperceptible; On my wall calendar the 20th of March is labeled 'Spring' but by that date, the agrarian Spring is well underway. Now, the signs that spring is beginning are becoming apparent.

In response to the lengthening daylight, I am coming out of my winter hibernation mode. Last week, I was motivated to start knitting a lace shawl, one of my resolutions for the New Year, but more indicative is my desire to DO STUFF outside. My spring cleaning is weeding the rose and berry beds and putting down fresh straw in the barn (I find it more difficult to find inspiration for spring cleaning inside the house). Cleaning out the chicken house, pruning, and preparing the garden beds for planting are done now amidst the optimism of Almost Spring.

The buds on the trees are swelling, a sure sign that screams to me, "GET READY, SPRING IS COMING!!!" Almost Spring, I think of as its own season, on the cusp of the beginning of the growing year when the hatchery and seed catalogues are repeatedly leafed through in our household and when decisions are made that determine what's grown and raised. It is the season for a fresh start. Once we are in the midst of Spring proper, seeds can get washed out, not germinate, early frosts hit -its a long list of discouraging things that can go wrong during the growing season- but now we can hope for and envision the very best growing season ever.

One of the very first things to come up is the rhubarb, and its appearance is one of the surest sign that it is Almost Spring. Weeding the rhubarb bed is on my list of THINGS TO DO. So is weeding the strawberry bed, the raspberry bed, the currant bushes, cleaning out the asparagus bed......

Mud, and lambs, lambs and mud. This is what Almost Spring looks like just outside the barn door (and also Spring and sometimes Early Summer, Late Fall, and Winter).

Even if there isn't much to graze on, the flock wants to be out on the pasture every day. It is a small flock and we have pastures we rotate them through, so they have access to pasture all year round, which makes for a happy flock of sheep with happy and healthy growing lambs.

Both the flock and us have made it through another winter, and welcome it being Almost Spring!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Spaghetti Carbonnara

Spaghetti alla Carbonnara is pasta with bacon and eggs, but it is so, so much more. Though it is spaghetti, bacon and eggs, some Parmesan cheese and a bit of black pepper -AND THAT'S ALL, the total effect is infinitely beyond the sum of these ingredients. Granted, this is not the sort of thing I want to eat more than once (or twice) a year, but now is the season when I like to make this pasta dish. The daylight hours are increasing and our chickens are beginning to lay again, and this seems to me a fitting way to celebrate farm eggs. We still have bacon from last fall in the freezer, and our almost-spring damp and cool weather means filling and comforting foods like this are welcomed at the table. Our almost-spring weather also means I'm beginning to work outside more, and this dish takes no more time to make than the time needed to cook the pasta. To make this, I put on a large pot of salted water to boil. Meanwhile, for each person (there was three of us last night), I dice 2 slices of bacon and set out a large pasta serving bowl. In a small bowl, I beat 1 egg, with a bit of black pepper and 2 T. Parmesan cheese. When the water comes to a boil, I add 1/4 lb. pasta per person. I cook the cut bacon separately in a caste-iron skillet, and try to time it so the bacon is done just as the pasta is, and not too crispy. I either leave the bacon in the skillet, or remove it to large bowl with 1-2 T. of the bacon fat (or drain and use olive oil). When the pasta is done al dente, I drain it and immediately put it into the large pasta serving bowl with the bacon and oil, pour in the beaten egg-cheese mix, tossing it well so the hot pasta and bacon just barely cook the eggs, melt the cheese, and coat the pasta. I let it set just a couple minutes, and then serve it with French bread.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Risotto and Homemade Stock

Every food writer and cookbook will tell you you should make your own chicken broth and/or similar stocks. They tell you it's a cinch to make, it tastes vastly superior to the store bought stuff, and it is very economical to do. You simply save all bones, roast carcasses, etc. in Ziploc bags in the freezer and then one day when you have time to putter in the kitchen, you put them in a pot, add onion, celery, carrot, black peppercorns and a good tablespoon of salt, cover it with water and completely cook the essence out of it all. I am pretty good about putting meaty bones in bags in the freezer, but in all honesty, I buy my fair share of Swanson's-style broth, too. I just don't always think far enough ahead to have the stock made in time before I need to use it. The other day, I decided I wanted to make risotto. I decided this early enough in the day, and on a day when I was home, and since all those bags of bones were falling out of the freezer onto the floor every other time we opened the door, and the cupboards (and freezer) were bare of any ready-made broth, I made homemade broth. I filled my pressure cooker with frozen bones and stuff, cooked it all 20 minutes at high pressure, left it to cool, and then strained the broth off. It was incredibly delicious, and the remaining bones and stuff made an old farm dog very happy. Broth actually IS a cinch to make, and I froze half of what I made, ready and waiting for the next time I want to make risotto.

Separate from the homemade broth issue, there is lots of grumbling about the actual act of making risotto. Oh sure, it's fantastic and all that, the grumblers say, but you have to stand there and stir it for 20 minutes, and who has the time? There is a pressure cooker recipe, I have made it and I admit, it's good, but honestly, I LIKE stirring the risotto for those twenty minutes. I like to clear the decks (OK, no one expect me to do ANYTHING for the next twenty minutes -I'm making risotto!) and simply focus on doing one thing: stirring. OK, two things, if I drink a glass of the wine while I'm standing there stirring. It is a simple yet extravagant dish, and probably one of my favorite things to eat. With broiled lamb chops and a green vegetable (we had frozen broccoli from last summer) or salad, it is hard to beat. Except maybe as leftovers, either simply reheated, or mixed with a beaten egg and Italian bread crumbs, then formed into little risotto cakes and fried in olive oil.


2 T. butter
2 T. olive oil

1/2 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
5-6 mushrooms, chopped (optional)

Saute a few minutes. Add:
1 1/2 c. Arborio rice
Cook, stirring for a few minutes then add:
1/2-1 c. white wine (optional) If you open a bottle of wine for this, you can drink a glass while you're doing all that stirring. And if you freeze the last 1/2-1 cup of wine in the bottle, you will be ready for the next time you want to make risotto and don't have a bottle of white wine at hand.

Add, 1/2 - 1 c. at a time, 1 quart hot stock (preferably homemade) over twenty minutes, stirring constantly while risotto simmers.

When rice is done (al dente) stir in:
1/3 c. shredded or grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
pinch white pepper
salt to taste (AFTER adding the Parmesan)
Cover with a lid, remove from heat, and let set a few minutes before serving.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Split Pea and Ham Soup

I love split pea soup. My kids aren't quite as gung-ho about it as I am, but I do love just how simple, straightforward and soul-satisfying it can be. And I love that it can be made in a pressure-cooker, a Dutch oven, or a crock-pot -fast, medium or slow- and it is always good and comforting, either with or without the ham hock, and by whichever method you choose to make it. I made some in the crock-pot a couple days ago, and then baked some cornbread muffins to serve with the soup, using the recipe on the back of the cornmeal box. A dab of homemade jam for the muffins, and it makes for a satisfying simple meal.

Split Pea and Ham Soup

For 4 people, place in crock-pot:
1 qt. water
1/2 ham hock (or omit for vegetarian version and add salt)
1 c. split peas
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1/2 onion, diced
2-4 bay leaves
bit of black pepper
Cook on low 8-10 hours. Remove ham hock to a plate, discard bones, dice meat, and return to pot.
2-3 T. molasses
salt to taste, if needed (I don't add any with the ham hock included)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Sherecie's Pygora Fleece Washing

Yesterday, it was typical for this time of year in the PNW: wet, muddy, gray and a bit dismal. Everyone is down in the dumps. But I was cheered up to find a surprise gift from my niece Sherecie in the mail. She wrote that she saw this cup and "knew you had to have it!" Isn't she wonderful? She is an amazing knitter, and is quickly becoming an amazing spinner. While I was drinking tea from my new cup for the first time, I remembered these photos of her first experience with washing a Pygora goat fleece she'd excitedly sent me awhile back. I'd ment to share them here ages ago.

Lovely Pygora fiber lock. In her e-mail, she described how her and her friend washed the fleece:

"First we removed the plant matter and 2nd-cuts from the fleece.

Then we put the good-stuff in mesh bags...

...and threw it into the washing machine.

We added some wool-wash and washed it once...

...and rinsed/spun-dry three times.

It is now in my basement, drying away! I also made a Raspberry-Pretzel Salad (Raspberry Pretzel Pie) yesterday and it made me think of family and being together. I love those kind of foods..."

Me too Sherecie. Thanks for sharing, and thanks for being your wonderful self!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Meatballs in Sweet and Pungent Sauce

"A meatball never says 'Look at me, aren't I clever?' It just says 'Eat me.' -Nigel Slater

And that is just one of the things I love about meatballs. Another is they can successfully be made of any meat, whether you grind (or mince) your own, or buy it -all meat makes tasty meatballs. Ground meat, seasonings, a binder, and a carbohydrate to absorb the moisture are the components needed to make meatballs, but the possible variations within each of these individual components is almost limitless. These meatballs I made are perfect in this sauce, but they would also be fantastic served with Sweet Chili Sauce, my Red Pepper Jam, or any number of other possibilities.

Meatballs for Sweet and Pungent Sauce
2 c. ground chicken, turkey, or rabbit
3/4 c. bread crumbs (I used Italian Seasoned bread crumbs)
1 egg
1/4 c. soy milk
1 T. oyster sauce
1 T. dried parsley
1 t. Worcestershire Sauce
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 small onion, minced
Form small meatballs and refrigerate (they'll hold their shape better during cooking). I simply mixed this all together this time, but if the onion and garlic had been sauteed in a bit of oil or butter first, they would have been even better.

And another thing I love about meatballs: they freeze well. I froze half of these and now I have meatballs waiting to be cooked at a moments notice.

Meatballs can be baked, pan fried, or as I did here, deep fried. Deep fried tofu cubes in this Chinese-style sauce is one of my well-received vegetarian stand-bys. I wanted meatballs AND tofu cubes when I made this, and since I already had the oil hot, I deep-fried these meatballs. If I have any vegetarians at the table, it is easy enough to serve the tofu and meat separately with this, and of course, the tofu is not necessary with the meatballs.

I learned to make Sweet and Pungent Sauce from The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook (you could spend a lifetime cooking with just this book), and I have been making variations of it for years. A bare-bones version (no meatballs, no tofu, little or no vegetables) is my daughter's go-to recipe when food and money are low, and we both have made it at different levels between the bare-bones and this whole-hog version. It is incredibly flexible and all versions are good served over rice.

Sweet and Pungent Sauce

Bring 3/4 c. water to a boil.
1/2 c. sugar, brown sugar or honey
1/2 c. vinegar (cider or white)

1-2 T. catsup or tomato sauce
2 minced garlic cloves
few drops each Tabasco and Worcestershire Sauce

Add what you have, or desire, of the following, or any other vegetables you choose to add:
1 carrot, peeled and sliced (I prefer less crisp carrot slices, and add them to the water at the beginning of the recipe)
1/2 red or green bell pepper, sliced or cut in chunks
1/2 onion, sliced in crescents
1 medium Roma tomato (I left this out)
5-6 mushrooms, sliced
1 celery stalk, sliced (I'm not overly fond of celery and almost always leave this out)
8 oz. pineapple chunks

Bring to a boil. Blend and add:
1/4 c. cold water
1 T. cornstarch
1 T. soy sauce

Add, or serve over, fried tofu cubes, shrimp, chicken, or meatballs. And serve with rice.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Eating Is An Agricultural Act

"Some, I know, will think it bloodthirsty or worse to eat a fellow creature you have known all its life. On the contrary, I think, it means that you eat with understanding and with gratitude." -Wendell Berry

"Eating is an agricultural act, a political act. Eating ends the annual drama of the food economy that begins with planting and birth." -Wendell Berry

Thursday, January 20, 2011


"The secret of good cooking is, first, having a love of it." -James Beard

"One of the secrets of cooking is to learn to correct something if you can, and bear with it if you cannot." -Julia Child

"Here are my secrets for cooking without recipes. Know what you want to eat. Keep it simple. Enjoy yourself. Come to think of it, those are my secrets for having a good life, too." -Tod Davies

And the secret to cooking WITH recipes, is to read them all the way through to the end BEFORE beginning to cook. There are few things I find more nerve-wracking and hysteria-inducing than happily cooking along with a new recipe and discovering, when I'm three-quarters done at five-thirty PM with half a dozen famished persons expecting by six PM a satisfying home cooked meal, depressing phrases such as, "must be cooked over low heat for at least three to four hours more," or "leave refrigerated overnight." Or instructions to add towards the end of cooking some ingredient that is NOT in my kitchen (or available at the local grocery store) and "it is essential to the success of this dish and there is no acceptable substitute." In all these cases, it helps to remember Julia's secret. And if that doesn't help, remember waffles: with syrup and/or homemade jams, maybe some scrambled eggs (if the hens are producing) and bacon (if there is some in the freezer); or chocolate waffles with strawberries or other canned or frozen fruits, and if possible a bit of whipped cream or yogurt (or not); even if served simply with maple or brown sugar syrup, waffles for dinner is almost always cheering. Waffles can be made in half an hour for any number of people and most are quite pleased to be served waffles, with whatever you have to put on them, anytime of the day.

My husband and I both remember our mother's making brown sugar syrup during our childhood. My husband says his mother simply boiled brown sugar and water, mine added corn syrup and maple flavoring. It is less expensive than buying real maple syrup, which my youngest loves (I don't remember my mother ever buying real maple syrup), but not necessarily cheaper than commercial syrups. It is though, a whole lot easier to make, than bundling a handful of kids into a car before breakfast in the morning, when you realize you are out of syrup just after announcing you will make them waffles (or pancakes) and they are all happily chanting, "Waffles, waffles, waffles" (or "Pancakes, pancakes, pancakes") riot-mob-style.

Brown Sugar Syrup
In a small saucepan over high heat bring to a boil:
1 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. water

Remove from heat. Add:
1/2 c. corn syrup
1/2 t. Mapleine, imitation maple flavoring
1/2 c. real maple syrup (optional, or instead of corn syrup and Mapleine)

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What's for Dinner Tonight?

NOT Smart Duck for the coyote's (or racoon's) dinner, at least! I know this is a terrible photo -it's painfully obvious by now that I'm not much of a photographer- but it shows her roosting for the night, safe on top of the shop roof when I was locking up the chickens last night. Daily answering the question, 'What's for dinner?' is what all home cooks (and coyotes and racoons) do, day after day. I personally almost always enjoy the challenge, and pondering the myriad of possibilities. What's everyone feeling like? What's in the freezer and cupboard? What haven't we had for awhile? What about this new recipe?

I've been on a bit of a Vietnamese food streak, started Friday night, when we went out to eat at the Vietnamese restaurant, Green Leaf (very good, I highly recommend it). Saturday, we made a Lobster Bisque and Crab Cakes (the seafood was a very much appreciated gift, and yes, the bisque was heavenly). Sunday we had the Vietnamese Chicken Curry and Rice that I posted, and Monday I made Venison with Peanuts, adapted from the Vietnamese cookbook, KOTO (I checked this out from the library and totally fell in love with it), with sticky rice and a simple salad. Thanks go to my youngest brother, Wayne for his expert hunting skills and sharing his venison with us.

Last night, I had planned to make an Asian-style Duck and Rice Soup, but decided to veer away from Vietnamese foods, and instead made duck cooked in red wine in the crock-pot, Coq au vin style. I put dried shiitake mushrooms, chopped carrots, sliced garlic, shallots, seasonings and the duck in the crock-pot and then poured over several odds and ends of red wine -a homemade grape-blueberry I'd just bottled but wasn't very impressed with, the last bit from a bottle we drank the night before (I was impressed with it), and several frozen portions I had saved in the freezer. I often pour that last half cup of wine left in the bottle into a container and freeze it. I stock several of these to pull out when I want just a bit of wine for cooking and don't want to buy a bottle. And a bit of wine is often just what I want to add to something.

I cooked the duck on high all day in the crock-pot, turning it several times, since I hadn't marinated it in the wine overnight, as I really should have done for this, until it was falling off the bone. I removed the duck to a plate, removed all the bones and shredded the meat. Meanwhile, I made a roux, added the wine broth to thicken it all, and returned the sauce and the meat to the crock-pot and turned the heat to low until dinner and served it over pasta. Tonight? I can't decide. Caesar Salad and duck cooked in red wine in a sandwich roll comes to mind. Or maybe Vietnamese-style fried rice.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Vietnamese Chicken Curry

Vietnamese Chicken Curry is one of my absolute favorite things to eat. Why? Well, it's VIETNAMESE. It's CHICKEN THIGHS, with ginger, garlic, lemongrass and coconut milk, melded into a STEW -three of my absolute favorite things in the world of food. This is one of those things that is a bit exotic (unless you are Vietnamese and/or, like my kids, who are not the teeniest bit Vietnamese, have been eating it most of your life), yet the main ingredients are the familiarly comforting stew trinity of chicken, carrots and potatoes. It's a snap to put together, once you have the basic Vietnamese ingredients in your kitchen. Fish sauce and the canned coconut milk will store almost indefinitely, and lemongrass can be frozen, either whole or sliced, making it relatively easy to have the ingredients stored away for this.

Vietnamese Chicken Curry
In large Ziploc bag, place 6 chicken thighs (or a whole pieced chicken, or use rabbit or duck instead, if that's what you have, or prefer)

Add to bag and smoosh around a bit:
1-2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and chopped small
2 stalks lemongrass, white part only sliced thin
5 garlic cloves, minced
2 t. curry powder
1/2 t. each salt, black pepper and dried chili flakes
Leave to marinade 1 hour.

Fry in 1/4-1/2 inch hot oil, 2 lbs potatoes, peeled and cut into 2 inch chunks, until browned a bit. Remove potatoes. Drain all but 1-2 T. oil and add chicken (or what you are using) along with spices from the bag. Fry till browned on all sides.

3-5 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
fried potato chunks
14 oz. can lite coconut milk
14 oz. can chicken broth (or water plus 1 t. salt)
2-3 bay leaves
2 T. fish sauce
1 t. sugar
1/2 t. dried mint
Simmer 30-60 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook a pot of rice.

To serve, add 1/2-1 c. minced cilantro leaves (I didn't have any, and didn't want to make a special trip to the store to buy some, so I left them out this time, and it was just fine) and juice of 1 lime (or lemon). Serve stew in bowls over rice, adding more crushed chili flakes, cilantro, or lime wedges, if desired. And this reheats beautifully, which is just one more thing to love about it.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Sausage Meatball Pizza

Pizza is one of the foods I make almost every week and it is always greeted with enthusiasm. Over the years, we have made many varieties and countless pizzas -the most memorable being when the oven caught on fire during one of the kids' birthday parties. I don't remember what kind of pizzas they were, just that they survived the oven fire and all the kids were REALLY impressed by flames coming out of the oven. For more than just a couple people, I make several pizzas because a) people generally eat a lot of pizza, b) combinations of pizza preferences can be complicated, and c) leftover pizza is a good thing. At one point for my family the pizza-making parameters were: one cheese-loving vegetarian, two preferring non-dairy, one violently opposed to black olives, and one viewing black olives as essential. Two half and half pizzas (four varieties) was what I would make, which (usually) made five people happy with leftovers. Last week, I made one sausage meatball pizza for three people -light on the cheese, green olives instead of black (because that's what we had), and little sausage meatballs. I think, if you are only going to learn to make one thing, a homemade pizza dough might be the very best thing to learn. It is made with only flour, salt and yeast -and by shaping and rising again, it can be made into a fine loaf of bread, which is a really good thing to know how to do- and you can put on top WHATEVER ingredient, or combination of ingredients you choose to, or have on hand: caramelized onions, tomato sauce and cheese, or tomato sauce without cheese, and/or tiny shrimp or anchovies or Canadian bacon or pepperoni, green or red bell peppers, artichoke hearts, pesto with sliced zucchini and get the idea.

Basic Pizza Dough
Mix together:
1 T. yeast
1 c. lukewarm water
2 1/2 c. flour, more or less (half whole wheat, if you like)
1 t. salt

Knead this, with a dough hook or by hand, to form a soft dough. Cover with plastic wrap and set it in a warm place for a few hours to rise until doubled in size. Deflate. Coat a pizza pan, or some type of a baking sheet, with 1 T. olive oil, turn the dough on it to coat the top and then press out evenly to fill pan and form a crust -be patient with the process.

For this pizza, I used Contadina Pizza Squeeze with some well-drained canned diced tomatoes, a sprinkle of Italian seasoning, cubed mozzarella, sliced green olives and Italian sausage meatballs.

The meatballs are no revelation but they were very good on the pizza. I took 1/2 lb bulk Italian sausage, formed small meatballs, browned them carefully in a caste-iron skillet, and topped the pizza with them. What could be simpler (well besides, just tomato sauce and cheese)?

Bake 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Best if cooled for 10 minutes, but we usually don't wait. For an impressive oven fire and a party no one will ever forget, go a rather long time without cleaning the oven, use a bit too much olive oil and push the crust right to the edge of the pan, then crank up the heat!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sunday Morning Cowboy Spuds

"When the mornings are dark, the flesh weak and the spirit weary, nothing comforts as a good breakfast can." -Margaret Costa, Four Seasons Cookery Book

This photo (of course) was my favorite when we saw Graham Nash's exhibit in San Diego last summer. And the piece titled 'Farm Woman' (of course) was my favorite when we saw Picasso's exhibit Friday night at the SAM.

I've said before I grew up on a ranch in Eastern Oregon, land rich and money poor. We grew a HUGE potato patch every summer and happily ate a lot of potatoes all year round. Cowboy Spuds -or home fries, fried potatoes, fried spuds, or whatever name you might know them by- were a favorite and common breakfast for us growing up, and still is for all of us, my cousins, my brothers and myself.

One of my brother's tells me it is not an uncommon experience to be woken up early on a Sunday morning by the sounds of our younger brother (who lives a few miles away) making fried potatoes for breakfast in the kitchen. I love thinking of them, now and then, eating breakfast together that way.

My family would NEVER use blue potatoes, like I did this morning, but they are so pretty when just cut (they tend to be less attractive when cooked), and their taste is wonderful. If you think a potato is a potato, you are wrong. Homegrown spuds, like all homegrown foods, are amazing. This is the simplest thing in the world to make, and though the addition of some really terrific bacon is fantastic, it is still wonderful without any.

Sunday Morning Cowboy Spuds
Heat a large caste iron skillet, add a couple tablespoons of oil, and 5-6 slices of bacon cut into 1/4-1/2 inch strips

Peel and cut into pieces 2 potatoes per person, extra if you want to have leftovers to warm up later. Add to the cooking bacon.

Peel and dice one yellow onion. Add to potatoes. Cook, covered (or not), turning frequently until potatoes are tender.

Serve with ketchup and a fried egg or two.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Stir-Fry Szechwan-style Pork with Cabbage

Somehow, I managed to break my drop spindle, which ROYALLY pissed me off. I glued it back together, but I don't have high hopes for it being a completely successful fix.

Instead of spinning silk, I went and bought hay and chicken feed. I find this a blessedly easy way to get alfalfa hay -even if it is $15 a bale. We grew alfalfa on the ranch I grew up on, for the cattle's winter feed, and a major portion of my adolescent summers were spent moving the irrigation pipes that watered the alfalfa fields, and then haying -cutting, baling and moving hundreds and hundreds of alfalfa bales, each by hand, from the fields to the barn for winter feeding. Despite the hard work of working in the fields back then, I love the smell of alfalfa hay and the memories associated with it. I took a break between hauling each of the four REALLY BIG BALES into the barn. Spinning and knitting do not keep you in shape for moving hay bales.

During one break, I looked at our now grown chicks we hatched out late last summer. They are happy, peaking in the dirt and finding the few odd bugs and other things that make chickens happy. Some will become replacement layer hens, and some will go into the freezer.

During another break, I watched the lambs.

I love watching sheep and lambs.

And if they don't have anything more interesting to do, like eating grass, their caution will eventually be overcome by their curiosity and they will come to see what you are doing.

And when I was all done, I had some leftover stir-fry for my lunch. This was really good, both at dinner and as leftovers. It's very easy, quick to make, and delicious. I used sliced yellow onions, but green onion cut in 2 inch lengths added towards the end would be good too, and the broccoli can be left out, or a bell pepper added.

Stir-fry Szechwan-style Pork with Cabbage

Cut 1 1/2 lbs (3 large) pork loin steaks into 1/2 inch ribbons or slices
Place in a large Ziploc bag. Add, smoosh together and let all set 30 minutes:
1 1/2 t. cornstarch
1 1/2 t. soy sauce
1/2 t. salt
1/8 t. white pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced

Put on some white rice to cook.

Cut and have ready:
1/4 head cabbage, 1 inch pieces
1/2 onion, sliced
2 celery stalks, sliced
defrost: 1 qt. bag broccoli

Mix in a small bowl:
1 T. cornstarch
2 t. soy sauce
2 T. water

This next step takes only a few minutes, so just before everyone is ready to eat, heat a fry pan or wok on high. When it's HOT, add 1-2 T. vegetable oil and pork. Cook, stirring occasionally until no longer pink. Add vegetables and cook a few more minutes, then add 1-2 t. Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce and 1/4 c. broth or water. When it boils again, add the cornstarch mix from the small bowl, and stir until thickened. Remove from heat, add 2-4 T. minced cilantro leaves (or not), and serve with hot rice and soy sauce. And some (I'm not one of them) like more Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce to add at the table.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Dirty Rice

'Dirty' as an adjective for any food is not enticing -it makes me think of dumpster diving and picnic mishaps. Nevertheless, Dirty Rice is a good thing. Really, trust me on this one. It is made from a bit of this and a bit of that, and though it has a rather unappetizing look and name, it is a quite tasty dish. Not being from the southern parts of the country, I can't claim any authenticity for my version, and having a mind like a sieve, I can't remember exactly where and when I first learned to make this (Paul Prudhomme, I think), but I can attest to it being good and satisfying, rather easy to make, and an economical way to use up some odd bits from the freezer. Or I sometimes purposely save and freeze the odd bits for this recipe -giblets from a couple whole chickens and/or ducks, the bacon ends, a small amount of sausage, and half a diced green pepper- which gives me a certain virtuous satisfied feeling. Dirty Rice, cornbread, and baked beans is pure down home goodness, and was easily made with what was in our freezer and cupboards -just make sure and have plenty of Frank's Red Hot Sauce to liberally douse it with.

Dirty Rice

Heat: 2 T. oil. Add:
gizzards, hearts and livers from three chickens and/or ducks, ground or minced
1/4 lb. ground pork
1/2 c. diced bacon or bacon ends
Cook until no longer pink.

1 t. each salt, paprika, dry mustard, and cumin
1/2 t. each black pepper, Italian seasoning
1/2 chopped onion
3/4 chopped green bell pepper
2 chopped celery stalks
2-4 garlic cloves, minced
2 jalapeno peppers, (defrosted) seeded and minced
Cook until tender. Add:
2 c. stock or water -ham stock is best, but I used lamb stock I had in the freezer for this.

Bring to a boil and add:
3/4 c. rice
1 c. frozen peas (optional)
Lower heat and cook until rice is tender. Remove from heat and allow to sit 10 minutes (if you can). Serve with LOTS of Frank's Red Hot Sauce.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Shepherdess Macaroni and Cheese

January in the Pacific Northwest is cold, wet, dark and gray. One of the bright spots in the month is having lambs. This is Little Big Guy born in October, making him several months older than our other three black lambs born last month. I love everything about having lambs and being their shepherdess.

Every January I make shepherdess-style macaroni and cheese, at our house aka Tamburger or Lamburger Helper. 'Bake until bubbly' is the sort of directions that I am drawn to this time of year, and with several odd bits of various cheeses lying about that should be used up, and ground lamb (and/or goat) in the freezer, this can be made without a trip to the store. The best macaroni and cheese is made from scratch, Comfort Food with a capital C, and the very best is whatever version you (or your mother or grandmother) make, and whatever style that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside just thinking about it. Some like myself, add ground meat and/or chilies, some use the sharpest cheese, one particular cheese, or a blend of several, and some prefer whole wheat pasta instead of semolina. The point being, that if you make a sauce with care for those you love, it will be the best, whatever style you make.

Shepherdess Macaroni and Cheese

Cook al dente 12-16 oz. small shell or elbow pasta

Saute 1/2 -1 lb ground lamb (or goat) and 1/2 onion. Set aside.

In a separate pan
Melt: 4 T. butter (you can use olive oil instead of butter, if you prefer)
Add: 1/3 c. flour
Cook a bit without browning. Stirring well with a gravy whisk or wooden spoon,
Add: 2 1/2 c. milk (whole, 2 %, 1/2 c. of cream as part of measure, if you like), making a smooth sauce.

Stir in:
2 1/2 c. cheese -grated cheddar, a mix of cheddar and Pepper-Jack, diced cream cheese, or whatever you have. I used Edam, Farmstead Gouda and an American style blend this time. I don't measure the cheese, but guesstimate for more or less that amount.

Butter well a 9 x 13 Pyrex dish, and sprinkle with Italian seasoned bread crumbs. Mix drained pasta, cheese sauce, and cooked ground meat together (in whichever pan used that appears able to hold all), then pour into casserole. Sprinkle with more bread crumbs and/or shredded or grated Parmesan cheese. Bake 350 degrees for 20-40 minutes, or until browned and bubbly. I served this with Irish Soda Bread -Comfort with a capital C.

After using up the odd cheeses, I noticed a pint of leftover sliced strawberries in the fridge that I felt should also be used up soon. With sliced rhubarb in the freezer, I had everything needed to make an amazing crumble, which could have very easily baked alongside the mac and cheese -if I'd have thought of that, which I didn't, but it could have.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crumble is fantastic, a snap to put together, and it disappeared in no time.

Mix together in 8 inch square Pyrex dish:
1 qt. frozen rhubarb, thawed
1 pint sliced sweetened strawberries
1/2 c. sugar, or to taste
3 T. cornstarch

Mix in food processor and spread evenly on top:
1 1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar or brown sugar
1/4 t. nutmeg
1/2 c. butter
Bake 350 degrees for 25-55 minutes.